Review: New Creation

New Creation

New CreationRodney Clapp. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018.

Summary: An exploration of how the end of the Christian story, or eschatology, ought shape the life of the church in this time between the comings of Christ.

“We are storied creatures, and everything happens because we lean toward endings. These endings are the goals, the pursuits, the destinies, the termination points that mark and animate our lives. Without endings we could never begin anything. We would lack plots and our lives would be without purpose, devoid of meaning” (p. 1).

This statement from the Introduction captured my attention. I’ve long felt that the Christian faith is not merely beliefs to embrace, or precepts to practice, but a story in which we find ourselves. It has seemed to me that one of the great needs of the church, and individuals within her, to understand is the story within which we live. Often, I believe that we are living in other stories, perhaps familial, or cultural, rather than the story of the kingdom.

Rodney Clapp begins this work with a summary of our story of creation, fall, the mission of Israel, the coming of the kingdom in the person of Jesus, and the kingdom yet to come. He crucially observes that the idea of kingdom implies a politics for the church–not that we so much have a politics, but that we are a politics as the people of God.

Clapp then explores a number of topics in light of “the end of the story.” He begins with a discussion of heaven, and the Christian teaching of our ultimate destiny as resurrected people caring for the new creation with heaven as a way station. He discusses our identity as a royal priesthood, that are also the temple of the living God. Every other allegiance is secondary, and releases us to identify with the powerless, those on the margins. The day will come when the lion will lay down with the lamb when the rule of the Prince of Peace is established. For now we follow Jesus by turning from violence to bear the cross of peace, even while we engage in warfare, not with people, but with the Principalities and Powers, the structures of life that oppress. We name them and refuse them our allegiance.

He moves on to prayer, reflecting on the Lord’s prayer, how prayer is the watchful waiting of the pilgrim, and how the lament and theodicies of scripture give us language to face the disjunct between our broken world and the new creation we await. He considers what our hope for the new creation means for our care for the present creation, one whose creatures God knows and provides for. He even includes a poem on “Lessons in Prayer, from a Dog,” inspired by his own dog, Merle. For many, the most interesting will be his discussion of sex in the eschaton. He proposes, in the language of the Song of Solomon, that love is indeed stronger than death, and that although the scriptures are not definitive on this, there is reason to hope for sex in the new creation, even if there is no marriage or giving in marriage. If we are resurrected bodies, he proposes that our genitalia will not be mere ornamentation!

Finally, Clapp explores the question of the last judgment, offering an interesting discussion in which he argues against eternal conscious torment as inconsistent with God’s reconciling work through the cross of Christ. He explores both the idea of conditional mortality, that the unrepentant simply cease to exist, fading to “nothingness,” and hopeful universalism, in which, after suffering judgment that purifies and redeems, all will be saved. Clapp does not commit to either of these positions, which he shows have been embraced by various parts of the church, and argues that ours is not to judge but to proclaim the good news of the kingdom. He concludes that our view of eschatology enables us to deal with the tragedies and ironies of our current existence and to live with both calmness and joy in the present time.

The book includes appendices in reading the Bible for the first time, and also some suggestions for reading Karl Barth, whose influences are evident through the book. What is so good about this book is how it deals with the misapprehensions so many have about the last things. For many, a destiny of only being ethereal spirits strumming harps is far less attractive than embodied, and perhaps sexual, creatures working in the new creation. He speaks of an end of the story that answers to our deepest longings for peace and healing the rifts within humanity and the rest of creation. His account gives us hope to face the hardships of life, and a call to a higher allegiance that transcends all earthly political engagements. Twice during the book, he makes this assertion:

“If the Republicans are the last ones caring for the unborn, the Christian will be among them. If the Greens are the last fighting for a caring stewardship of creation, the Christian will be among them. If the Democratic Socialists are the last ones fighting for the poor and the working class, the Christian will be among them. If Black Lives Matter are the last ones believing that black lives do matter, the Christians will be among them. If the relief agencies are the last ones caring for refugees, the Christian will be among them. If the pacifist anarchists are the last ones standing for peaceable alternatives to war, the Christian will be among them” (pp 45, 113).

If nothing else, Clapp is an equal opportunity offender! Readers will doubtless find something to take issue with in this brief and forthright account. Some might disagree with Clapp’s take on the last judgement. But if he provokes us to think about what the end of our story is as the people of the kingdom, in all its glory, and challenges us to shape our lives, in these tumultuous times, by this story rather than other cultural stories, then this book will have accomplished its purpose.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Basics for Believers

Carson_BasicsforBelievers.indd

Basics for Believers, D. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018 (Re-packaged edition, originally published in 1996).

Summary: Expositions of the Letter to the Philippians focusing on the core concerns of Christian faith and life.

This work is part of a series of expository studies by D. A. Carson originally published from the late 1970’s to the mid-1990’s being re-issued in a reasonably priced, re-packaged form. In this case, Carson exposits the Letter to the Philippians. These messages are lightly edited versions of four messages given during Holy Week of 1994 at the “Word Alive” conference in Skegness England. The second message has been broken into two messages.

The title of the work, Basics for Believers, might give the impression that this is a book for new believers. The subtitle actually helps us see the importance of the book for all believers: “The Core of Christian Faith and Life.” He draws this from his study of Philippians, in which he sees a church perhaps ten years old, challenged in various ways, and needing encouragement to re-focus and maintain their commitment to the core of the Christian faith, centering around the gospel of Christ crucified and raised, and a life lived worthily of that gospel. I suspect we all can use this, kind of like an annual physical that reminds us of essentials of healthy physical life.

The five messages address the following themes:

  1. Put the Gospel First (Philippians 1:1-26)
  2. Focus on the Cross (Philippians 1:27-2:18, focus on 2:5-11)
  3. Adopt Jesus’s Death as a Test of Your Outlook (Philippians 1:27-2:18, focus on 1:27-2:4, 2:12-18)
  4. Emulate Worthy Christian Leaders (Philippians 2:19-3:21)
  5. Never Give Up the Christian Walk (Philippians 4:1-23)

Several qualities about these messages stood out to me. I appreciated the gracious and clearly articulated explanation of the propitiatory work of Christ in his chapter on the cross. This is not a popular idea in contemporary discusses, often caricatured. Those who would oppose propitiation ought to consider and engage Carson’s articulation of this doctrine. Carson carefully connects doctrine and life throughout.

While these are not exegetical commentaries, but rather expository studies, it is very clear that Carson’s messages reflect disciplined exegesis and that his preaching outline arises from careful textual study and reflection. An example I particularly appreciated was in his fourth message, “Emulate Worthy Christian Leaders.”

  1. Emulate those who are interested in the well-being of others, not in their own (Philippians 2:19-21)
  2. Emulate those who have proved themselves in hardship, not the untested upstart and the self-promoting peacock(!) (Philippians 2:22-30)
  3. Emulate those whose constant confidence and boast is in Jesus Christ and in nothing else (Philippians 3:1-9)
  4. Emulate those who are continuing to grow spiritually, not those who are stagnating (Philippians 3:10-16)
  5. Emulate those who eagerly await Jesus’s return, not those whose mind is on earthly things (Philippians 3:17-21)

The outline elaborates both the basic theme of the text (“emulate worthy Christian leaders”) and summarizes the content of each section in memorable form. The outline alone gives much grist for reflecting on the question of, after whom we are modeling our lives.

The other mark of good exposition evident in this work is incisive application. Once again, I will give but one example from the first message on putting the gospel first. He has just cited a scholar who traced the course of a movement who in one generation believed the gospel and advanced certain social, economic, and political entailments, the next generation assumed the gospel and identified with the entailments, and the third denied the gospel and made the entailments everything. Then he asks:

“What we must ask one another is this: What is it in the Christian faith that excites you? What consumes your time? What turns you on? Today there are endless subgroups of confessing Christians who invest enormous quantities of time and energy in one issue or another: abortion, pornography, homeschooling, women’s ordination (for or against), economic justice, a certain style of worship, the defense of a particular Bible version, and much more….Not for a moment am I suggesting that we should not think about such matters or throw our weight behind some of them. But when such matters devour most of our time and passion, each of us must ask: In what fashion am I confessing the centrality of the gospel?” (pp. 31-32).

Theological acuity, exegetical and expository clarity, and searching application. All of these challenge the reader to join the Apostle Paul in his aspiration: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow, to attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11, NIV).

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Reviews of other D. A. Carson books in this series:

The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus

The Cross and Christian Ministry

Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — P. Ross Berry

68-41-1 P Ross Berry sepia

P. Ross Berry, Courtesy of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society

It seems fitting during Black History month to talk about one of the most distinguished Black residents of Youngstown, Plympton Ross Berry (usually know as P. Ross Berry, having dropped his full first name for the initial). It has been said that at one time, he was involved in building most of the buildings in downtown Youngstown. Berry was born in June 1834 (some accounts list 1835) as a free person of color in Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania. His family moved to New Castle where he was trained as a bricklayer, becoming a master bricklayer and stonemason by age 16.

One of the first projects on which he worked, in 1851, was the Lawrence County (PA) courthouse, which is still standing. A letter to the New Castle News documents his role in contributing to the architectural design of the Greek Revival facade. He married in 1858 and he, his wife, and four children came by canal boat to Youngstown in 1861.

The project that brought him to Youngstown was a contract for the brick work at the Rayen School. In short succession he received contracts for work on the second St. Columba’s Church, the Homer Hamilton foundry and machine shop on South Phelps, the new jail on Hazel Street, the First Presyterian Church, the William Hitchcock and Governor Tod homes, the first Tod House on Central Square, the Grand Opera House in what was known as the “Diamond Block,” where the Huntington Bank is now located, and the 1876 Mahoning County Courthouse at Wick and Wood. According to the research of Joseph Napier, Sr., Berry built 65 structures in the area, as well as the brickwork on many Youngstown streets.

His stature in the community was such that a number of white bricklayers worked under his direction, something very uncommon in the day. As black soldiers migrated to the Mahoning Valley after the Civil War, he also trained many of them to work as bricklayers and was responsible for founding the Brick Masons Union, Local 8. Berry own his own brick foundry and made a reddish-orange colored brick, and example of which you can see in the Rayen Building. Because of his success and prominence, he was involved in a number of philanthropic causes and helped with the founding of the St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church.

Berry is described by Howard C. Aley as a handsome man, six foot six inches in height. His wife, Mary Long, eventually bore him eight children, four boys and four girls. Several sons worked in the business and his offspring were successful doctors, attorneys, musicians, and leaders in the community.

Berry worked until age 82 and died on May 12, 1917. He is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. The P. Ross Berry Middle School was completed in 2006, named in his honor. The school was closed as a middle school in 2012 and now serves as the site of the Mahoning County High School.

P. Ross Berry’s story was one I had not heard until recently and is one that deserves to be much more widely known. He is one of the outstanding citizens, builders, architects, and philanthropists Youngstown has produced.

Sources:

Howard C. Aley, A Heritage to Share

All Things Youngstown

New Castle News

Mahoning Valley History

Joseph Napier, Sr, The P. Ross Berry Story (video)

Review: Washington

Washington

Washington: A LifeRon Chernow. New York: Penguin Press, 2010.

Summary: A one volume biography focusing on the character and emotional life and the qualities that enabled him to lead so effectively as general, in presiding over the Constitutional Convention and serving as first president.

Once again, winter found me working through a Ron Chernow biography, in this case, Washington, his study of the inner life and leadership of this Founder. Chernow’s contention is that Washington wasn’t the dull, stuffy figure he often is portrayed as, but a man of robust physical character, great ambition in both business and politics, and passionate in his affections–warm with family and trusted associates, flirtatious with women, and stern with his workers and slaves.

Throughout his life, he endured deplorable physical conditions on surveying trips, military expeditions, and travels, and even on his own farm, surviving numerous illnesses. Apart from his final illness, the more he was outdoors, the healthier he was. In battle, he was fearless, completely unconcerned by his own safety, and seemingly preserved by some kind of providence from harm. He was a magnificent horseman, usually entering a town on horseback, even as President. He paid careful attention to the tailoring of his uniforms, consciously aware of his appearance.

As a young officer under the British, he complained about unequal pay, sought promotion, and alienated the British. Over time, he learned to control his ambitions and his restraint and self-command seems to have been key in his command of others. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment in the War of Independence was not the battles he fought (apart from Trenton) but that he held the army together despite inadequate supplies and poor or non-existent pay, long enough for the French alliance to pay off at Yorktown. He was a man of few words among those who were far more verbose at the Constitutional Convention. His impartial work as President of the Convention and quiet diplomacy behind the scenes brought the process to completion.

A combination of well-timed deaths and inheritances, and enterprise in acquiring lands allowed Washington to amass develop Mt. Vernon, as well as extensive holdings in the Ohio country. His lack of self-regard, and devotion to national service meant few years of enjoyment, and the neglect of his properties to his great financial loss. Only as President did he accept a salary–defraying his own expenses in all the other positions he held. While a formidable leader trusted by all at first, he used all his abilities of tact and restraint to keep the disparate spirits of a Hamilton and Jefferson in harness for most of his presidency, even while criticized by both men and their partisans. He kept a country just getting on its feet from getting embroiled in foreign conflict.  One of the saddest things for him was that he could not prevent the rise of partisan divides.

Washington was a man of integrity and convictions. While Parson Weems tale of Washington cutting down the cherry tree and then confessing his crimes was not true, he was scrupulously careful with things like money and promises to care for his wards, even when this cost money that was in scarce supply. Equally, his strong convictions about America’s weak state under the Articles of Confederation and his persistent efforts to promote the Constitutional Convention and the ratification of the constitution contributed immeasurably to the success of these efforts.

Chernow portrays Washington as a man of passion. He could be deeply moved in speaking farewell to the country at the end of his presidency, and at other significant milestones. He was a ladies man who would count the number of women in the room and dance the night away with them. With two women, Sally Fairfax and Elizabeth Willing Powel, he had more serious flirtations, at least in letters. It appears that things never got further than that. George and Martha had a deep bond, and I wonder if she was shrewd enough to keep him in check, but never estranged. She stayed with him through the hard winters of the war and he deferred to her on many matters of social life.

Washington could be harsh on subordinates, demanding of them the meticulous attention and service he demanded of himself. He was estranged from long time friend Henry Knox when Knox had a lapse of diligence due to personal affairs during the Whiskey rebellion. He was hard on his overseers.

Washington reflected the dilemmas that have been inherent in our national life. He was disturbed by the treatment of Native Americans but had no compunctions about sending General Anthony Wayne to subdue the tribes in the Northwest Territory so settlement could proceed. He wrestled with slavery throughout his life as a plantation owner, vigorously tracking down runaway slaves while trying to be a benevolent owner. One exceptional mark of his integrity was that his will provided for the emancipation of his slaves, education of young slaves, and provision for elderly slaves–far ahead of other southern plantation owners. Washington also struggled with the sectional differences already present and the tension between the strong federal government proposed by Hamilton and the agrarian republicanism of a Jefferson. Given all this, I wonder whether would would have ever become the United States without him.

While Chernow gives us all the events of his life, he also offers us insights into the man, hardly perfect, but hardly the stuffy and dull figure we might consider him, alongside a Hamilton or a Jefferson. There certainly is warrant to the attribution to Washington of indispensability. He did what others could only build on in holding together an army, bringing together a Constitutional Convention, and establishing a strong presidency while relinquishing its power willingly and peacefully. He did this through courage, integrity, warm relationships, firmness and resolve, and even charm.

Chernow does all this with a flow of prose that seems to make 800 pages of text fly, leaving this reader not wanting it to end. When one reviews the acknowledgements, notes, and bibliography, it becomes apparent that he has woven extensive primary and secondary sources and other research skillfully into a flowing and fascinating narrative. After his work on Washington and Grant, I wonder who he will write about next. One thing I know, if I’m around, it will be at the top of my reading pile!

 

Review: The Minority Experience

The Minority Experience

The Minority ExperienceAdrian Pei. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018.

Summary: A book that explores the minority experience in organizations and how organizations can meet these challenges redemptively.

Being a minority is not a mere matter of numbers but an emotional experience that is about pain, about power, and who holds it, and about the past, a history and accumulation of experiences. Adrian Pei maintains that understanding these realities of pain, power, and the past are crucial to understanding and beginning to address the minority experience. He writes out of his experience as an Asian-American working within Epic, the Asian-American ministry of Cru, eventually serving as their national director of leadership development before moving into a consultant role in organizational development.

The first part of the book focuses on the emotional experience of being a minority in an organization. He describes the pain of self-doubt (“Am I the problem?”), the internalizing of pain and shame. Pei describes an experience with a leader during new staff training, and a conversation with that leader ten years later where he was able to both speak out and be listened to. He describes the inequities of power often unconsciously built into systems that attempt to domesticate minorities, to make them “fit in.” He also helps us understand how every minority has a past that colors current experience. Latinos, particularly in the southwest US saw the white United States take their country from Mexico and them reject them, wishing them south of the “new” border. Asian-Americans came as cheap and expendable labor on the Trans-Continental railroad. Blacks came against their will as slaves. Native peoples endured the seizure of their land, and then pejorative portrayals in media and even sports logos. To continue to try to step up when one is put down is wearying, another part of the history of the past that shapes the present.

Organizations often want to skip over issues of pain, power, and the past, but before doing anything else, it is crucial to sit with them, not rush to “solve” them. Understanding pain can lead to compassion, understanding power can lead to advocacy, and understanding the past can lead to wisdom. Part Two then begins to address the change process in organizations from this base. Pei outlines a seven step change process:

  • Step One: Why change or diversify?
  • Step Two: Who will lead our change process?
  • Step Three: Make an organizational assessment.
  • Step Four: What is the goal and the problem?
  • Step Five: Prepare for change.
  • Step Six: Execute Change.
  • Step Seven: Internalize Change.

Pei offers detailed principles, questions, and examples for each step. Then he goes back to pain, power, and the past and in detail discusses how we might see pain with eyes of compassion, steward power with the hands of advocacy, and reframe the past with a heart of wisdom. His conclusion draws hope from the narrative of Deuteronomy. God led Israel through pain for forty years so they could eat food in comfort in the land. God led them through power in the experience of deliverance from slavery so they would remember who gave them their freedom. God took them from a small and insignificant past to be great in number. This gives him hope as he works with organizations, even in our polarized society.

Perhaps the most powerful word for me as someone senior in age from a majority culture is the word to sit with those who experience pain, deficits in power, and a past history and just listen. It’s so tempting to jump in and try to relate comparable experiences, but this is just not helpful, or to “heal wounds lightly,” which usually only increases pain. When this begins to be uncomfortable, there is the choice to self-protect and defend, or to go deeper yet and ask, “tell me more.”

The other lesson of this book is that change is a process, and one not undertaken lightly or accomplished quickly. At one point, Pei writes about an Asian-American leader in a predominantly white InterVarsity, who patiently worked over 30 years and pioneered a program to develop Asian-American and other minority leaders. One of those leaders, Tom Lin, is now InterVarsity’s president in a much more diverse organization. A clear vision of why an organization wants to foster diversity, and resolved leadership who persist, are critical in change processes.

Most of all, Pei’s personal vulnerability in sharing his own experiences of pain, power, and the past strengthens the work immeasurably. He offers hope without dodging the hard realities he has had to negotiate, even in a well-meaning Christian organization. The stories of organizations who have worked through such processes offer hope for others contemplating leaning into these challenges.

Who Are We Protecting?

In recent years, it has become common place to point the finger at the Catholic church with regard to sexual abuse by clergy. Well, this week Protestants discovered the “log in their own eye” with the Houston Chronicle report on sexual abuse within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).The article featured a mosaic of mug shots representing a portion of the 220 who worked or volunteered with the SBC who were convicted or pleaded guilty to sex crimes. The investigation reported over 700 victims, many of which were minors, which, if it follows the pattern of other investigations, may be the tip of the iceberg.

Similar to other sexual abuse scandals the article traces a pattern of ignoring victim reports, protecting perpetrators, and refusing to make reforms that would protect children from these sexual offenders. Tragically, in the case of some pastors, even after convictions, they were able to secure pastoral roles in other churches, even nearby churches.

Sadly, I don’t think we are going to be eliminate patterns of sexual brokenness that lead to sex crimes. A highly sexualized culture and patterns of dysfunction in families suggest to me that churches and other ministries will continue to need to take measures to protect against predators, and others who violate boundaries of trust. Churches are “target rich” environments for predation, bringing adults and children together, often in relations of trust and privacy.

It seems that in all these scandals, there has been a systemic blindness to the clear teaching of Jesus:

“And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Matthew 18:5-6

I grew up singing “Jesus loves the little children.” It’s that simple. The priority in our churches must be to love and protect our children. To fail to protect our children may well be to cause them to stumble–indeed many who have been abused have turned away from the faith. It seems there are some basic steps we can take.

  1. Break the silence. The worst assumption we can make in churches is “we all know each other and none of us would do something like this.” Candid education of every one, dealing with the signs of abuse, and how the whole church can be involved in preventing abuse, may deter potential abusers. Making clear a commitment to child safety and the practical steps the church takes in its children and youth programs sends a message that “we are committed to the safety of children.” It may even encourage parents of young families to come to your church!
  2. Screen all pastoral candidates, staff, and volunteers who work with children. One of the problems in the SBC was the refusal to track sexual predators. Applications, references and background checks may seem burdensome but they are a small price to pay and they say “we are committed to the safety of children.” I personally felt better about my son’s involvement with Boy Scouts when I learned I needed to undergo a criminal background check to volunteer with our troop.
  3. Train volunteers who work with children with periodic refreshers. Establishing clear protocols of appropriate and inappropriate contact, how to recognize signs of abuse, and how to keep children safe are important, including how children are released to parents or caregivers.
  4. It may seem burdensome, but the rule of an adult never being alone with a child makes sense. It was a rule for which I was grateful when I worked with Scouts, as much a protection for me as for the boys I worked with.
  5. Have a clear policy of how suspected abuse is dealt with, including implementation of your state’s mandatory reporting requirements. Physical or sexual abuse of minors is a crime. All of this makes it clear that abusers will not be shielded and that the priority is the safety of children. In all the sexual abuse scandals, the problem wasn’t merely that abuse happened, but that deliberate steps were taken to protect the abuser, and the reputation of the institution, instead of the abused child or youth.

Certainly there is more to be said about this. But is it so hard to say in our religious institutions that ensuring the safety of our children takes priority over protecting individual or institutional reputations? Jesus doesn’t need us to protect his reputation; he needs us to protect his children. Period.

Review: Philosophy of Revelation

Philosophy of Revelation

Philosophy of Revelation, Herman Bavinck (edited by Cory Brock and Nathaniel Gray Sutanto, foreword by James P. Eglinton). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2018 (Originally given and expanded from Stone Lectures in 1908).

Summary: A new annotated edition of Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck’s 1908 Stone Lectures at Princeton, arguing that revelation is a warranted basic belief.

Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) was a Dutch Reformed theologian, writing mostly in Dutch, from the late nineteenth, early twentieth century. With the translation of his Reformed Dogmatics in 2003, studies of Bavinck’s work has flourished. This work represents an expanded version of Bavinck’s Stone Lectures at Princeton, first translated in 1908 by Geerhardus Vos. Two contemporary Bavinck scholars recognized the importance of this work to discussions of Reformed epistemology, and have given us this new annotated edition of the work. The annotations to the work are found in the footnotes and address everything from alternate translations of the text to explanations and context for Bavinck’s arguments, a tremendous asset to any modern scholar-theologian studying Bavinck. This is particularly important because Bavinck is engaging philosophers, scientists, and historians of his day, who are often not a part of contemporary academic and theological discourse.

Bavinck’s basic argument, anticipating the work of Alvin Plantinga, is that revelation is a warranted basic belief. The lectures argue this inductively from the disciplines of philosophy, natural science, history, religion and religious experience, culture, the Christian faith, and our teleology, our understanding of the future. Revelation in its general form (the things we can’t not know), and particularly around religious experience and Christian faith, special revelation, are shown to be basic to human experience and actually foundational to science, history, and philosophy.

Bavinck writes in a period where modernism had theology on its heels. Scientific research exalted the materialistic, rational explanation of all. What I was most intrigued with in the work was how Bavinck anticipated much of the developments of the last one hundred years in the movement from materialism to various forms of pantheistic monism in shaping our view of reality. Bavinck is one of the first I have observed to address the questions of the one and the many and how revelation, and the Christian faith offers the only satisfying explanation about connections between material and spiritual reality, and the sources both of oneness and true diversity. He is also prescient, in his discussion of revelation and the future, in anticipating the eugenics movement, and more recent efforts in genetic modification or even trans-humanism, human efforts to control our future.

The strength of this work is the basic argument Bavinck is making, and its connection to later thinkers from Van Til to Plantinga and Wolterstorff. An important aspect of this philosophy of revelation is the argument for how revelation serves as the basis of the coherence of all intellectual inquiry. This is desperately needed good news for our modern, fragment university world, as well as our fragmented modern lives, and even sense of self.

Sometimes, Bavinck’s engagement with scholars of his day makes it harder for those of us unfamiliar with them to keep track of his argument. The annotations are quite helpful in this regard. While it may have felt like meddling in the text, some form of subheadings or marginal summaries would have been helpful to this reader in keeping track of the thread of his argument. In some cases, such as critiquing Darwin, it felt that he might have been relying on apologetic arguments of his day that are less helpful with the advances of biological science. I realize that such a criticism simply reflects the problem of engaging any scholarly work from one hundred years ago.

None of this takes away from the compelling case he makes for a warranted basic belief in revelation, addressing both the philosophy of revelation, and the philosophy of revelation. We continue to live and move and work in an incoherent culture that divorces reason and revelation. Bavinck offers a significant extended argument for reconciling these, summarized well in one of his concluding statements:

“Revelation in nature and revelation in Scripture form, in alliance (verband) with each other, a harmonious unity which satisfies the requirements of the intellect and the needs of the heart alike.” (p. 242)

[By the way, don’t overlook the editors explanation, in their introductory essay (pp. xxxii-xxxiii), of the use of Piet Mondrian’s work on the cover of this work!]

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Inexpressible

Inexpressible

InexpressibleMichael Card. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018.

Summary: A study of the Hebrew word hesed, exploring what this says about God, about the objects of hesed, the incarnation of hesed in Jesus, and how then we should live.

“When the person from which I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.”

After studying all the uses of the Hebrew word hesed, this is how Michael Card ended up defining this word. This whole book is about one amazing word. Translators have groped for words to express in one or a few words the inexpressible wonder of this word, particularly because it most often is used to describe God in his action toward humanity. At the beginning of Card’s book, Card lists over a hundred words or phrases the translators have come up with for this word. The King James Version came up with a compound word, loving-kindness, to try to capture its essence.

Card takes us through his own extensive study of every use of the word in the Hebrew Bible. He takes us through passages that have to do with the God of hesed, explores what it is like to be an object of hesed, considers how Jesus incarnates and teaches hesed, and what hesed meant for the Jews after the destruction of the second temple, and what this says for us. Appendices give us a list of every text with the word hesed, the words used in different translations, the words associated with hesed, and ideas for further study.

Card tells memorable stories to illustrate hesed such as that of Keshia Thomas, a black demonstrator at a Klan rally who saw a Klansman who had wandered mistakenly into her group of protesters, and was being attacked until she shielded him with her own body, possibly saving his life. Card speaks of his first visit to a black church, and a black woman, Dinah, who held his hand, and extended welcome. He develops the argument of Moses with God that he is slow to anger and abounding with hesed, a refrain recurring throughout scripture. God may deal with Israel’s sin, but he never gives up on her.

One of his most striking reflections is on Jesus with the Roman centurion, who is described as deserving by the people, but describes himself as undeserving and yet, out of love for his servant, and faith, the like Jesus had not seen in Israel, asks for what he does not deserve. He found the hesed he believed in. Eventually, at the cross, Jesus would give to all humanity what we did not deserve, making peace between God and us.

His concluding reflections challenge us to live in this world. He begins with how the followers of Hillel in Judaism dealt with the fall of the temple, drawing on the statement of Hosea 6:6 which says, “For I desire hesed and not sacrifice.” The doing and living of hesed, along with the idea of tikkun olam (“repairing the world”) have become central to modern Judaism. Card invites us to live into that same reality:

“The final challenge to you and me is to take whatever understanding we have in our heads of hesed and allow the Spirit to move it into our hearts. We must enter into the world of the word hesed and then take that world into our world, back to our families, to our churches and towns–to our enemies. The Scriptures are offering us an unimaginable opportunity to make Jesus believable and beautiful by offering everything (even our lives) to those who have a right to expect nothing from us.” (p. 135)

To read this book was to allow God to thaw my heart, reminding me of the everything I have so undeservingly received. To read this book was to clear the fog from my eyes, to give me at least a glimpse of the inexpressible beauty of the God of hesed. Finally, to read this book was to stir my will, my hands, my feet, to think about the places where I might repair the world through the loving-kindness of hesed. 

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Pot Roast

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The roast on our stove, with an hour to go. Yes, we covered it after taking this picture.

It could be a brisk fall day when you were out playing touch football with your friends or a cold winter afternoon after you had delivered your papers. You come into a house pervaded by the savory smell of a pot roast simmering on the stove. You can’t wait to sit down to the dinner, and mom tells you it still has an hour to go.

That’s the smell driving me wild as I write this post, that has been filling our house all afternoon. Just before writing, I took the picture above, having helped my wife chop potatoes, carrots, and onions to cook for the last hour or so–only an hour more to endure of having my mouth water before we get to sit down and enjoy melt in your mouth meat with all the fixings. Maybe writing this will distract me.

This is another one of those perfect working class meals–hearty, filling, and inexpensive. The pot roast was an inexpensive cut of meat, a chuck roast or shoulder roast, tenderized by those hours of slow cooking. Potatoes, carrots, onions, flour, salt and pepper, garlic and other seasonings like thyme (we use a spice mix that includes marjoram and cinnamon as well). We use a half and half mix of water and beef broth, which brings out the meat flavor.

We start by dredging the meat in a mix of flour, salt and pepper, and then browning it in a pan. Then we put it into our cook pot covering the meat with our mix of water and beef broth and seasonings to simmer for three to three and a half hours on our stove top. (Some bake in their ovens.) Then we add the potatoes, carrots, and onions, and some additional seasoning and cook for another hour. We don’t like to add these at the start because we want them tender, not mushy. We split the servings and have dinner ready for the next day as well.

The basic test of doneness is the meat is fork tender–you can cut it with your fork. What’s Cooking America recommends that the internal temperature of your pot roast should be 180° F.

It is amazing how smells bring back memories as well as make your mouth water and your stomach growl. I think of all those times I came home to those savory smells, and remember my mom who had to think up dinner every day.

Well, the roast is about ready so I better stop. Have I made your mouth water yet?

I suspect there are as many ways to do a roast as there are readers of this post. Would love to hear your special tips!

 

Guest Review: Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design

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Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent DesignJ.B. Stump ed., Ken Ham, Hugh Ross, Deborah Haarsma, Stephen C. Meyer, contributors. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017.

Summary: A snapshot of the current origins debate in America.

The stated goal of this Four Views book is “for it to be an accurate snapshot of the origins conversation in America right now.” In my opinion, it succeeds.

The format consists of essays by Ken Ham (Answers in Genesis), Hugh Ross (Reasons to Believe), Deborah Haarsma (BioLogos), and Stephen C. Meyer (Discovery Institute). Following each essay are responses by the other three authors and a rejoinder by the essay author.

The essay authors were asked to describe their position on origins, discuss the most persuasive argument for and biggest challenges to their position, their sources of evidence for their position, and how important it is to have a correct view of origins.

Ken Ham defends Young-Earth Creationism against all of the old-earth views. He states that “Scripture must control our interpretation of the scientific evidence and our critique of evolutionary, naturalistic interpretations” (p. 31) and that “the issue of the age of the earth for Christians comes down one of authority. Who is the ultimate authority, God or man, or what is the final authority, God’s Word or man’s word?” (p. 34) He neglects to mention that Scripture also needs to be interpreted, and that his interpretation is only one of many possible interpretations of Genesis 1-11. He claims that “all old-earth scientists ignore (or worse, twist) God’s eyewitness testimony in Genesis in their efforts to interpret the physical evidence from events of the past” (p. 212).

Ken Ham then goes on to state that “The scientific evidence confirming the literal truth [i.e., his interpretation] of Genesis 1-11 is overwhelming and increasing with time as a result of the research of both evolutionists and creationists” (p. 31). That statement is blatantly false and totally opposite of reality.

As part of his discussion of biological evolution, Ken Ham offers two cut-off quotations from Ernst Mayr’s book “What Evolution Is” (pp. 33 & 157) that appear to support his position until you look up the rest of the quotations.

Finally, in his rejoinder, Ken Ham offers a challenge: “Unless we are persuaded from the Scriptures that we are wrong, we will not recant our teaching and defense of young-earth creation, which historically is the biblically orthodox faith of the church” (p. 70). Christian old-earth and evolutionary creationists need to take him up on that challenge.

Next, Hugh Ross’s essay on old earth (day-age, progressive) creationism defends a moderate concordist (seeking harmony between nature and Scripture) approach to the interpretation of Genesis 1-11 and what he calls “constructive integration, which he describes as anticipating “a straight-forward, harmonious integration of Scripture’s book with nature’s record.” His approach centers on a testable creation model “providing multiple scientific evidences . . . for God’s direct involvement in nature” (p. 78). For instance, he suggests that genetics studies will eventually show that the current human population descended from two humans.

As an astronomer, Hugh Ross’s strength has always been in the area of cosmological evolution. His essay, however, focuses more on biological evolution. He describes what he perceives as biblical and scientific challenges to biological evolution, such as the Avalon and Cambrian explosions and perceived evidences of God’s interventions. He also suggests that evolutionary convergence fits well with a common design perspective, which would appear to indicate that he is unfamiliar with the work of paleontologist Simon Conway Morris on convergence within biological evolution.

In the end, he believes that “Nothing less than active, repeated interventions by a supernatural Creator could ensure that just-right kinds of life at just-right population levels living in just-right habitats would replace the extinct species at just-right times to keep Earth’s atmospheric chemistry and surface temperatures optimal for life throughout the past 3.8 billion years.” (p. 91). This sounds like a “God of the Gaps” argument.

In her essay, Deborah Haarsma provides an excellent 30-page description of the evolutionary creation view of origins. She first discusses the geological and astronomical evidence for the vast age of the universe and the earth. She then briefly discusses how evolution works, including the fossil, embryo, and genetic evidence for evolution, and the various mechanisms of evolution. She then makes the case for human evolution and current options for viewing a historical Adam and Eve, about which BioLogos takes no specific position.

Haarsma then goes on to the theological issues around biological evolution, including what it means for man being made in the image of God, original sin, death before the fall, and natural evil. She concludes that evolutionary creation is a faithful option for Christians.

In his essay on the intelligent design view, Stephen Meyer presents a brief history of the classic design argument and the case for Intelligent Design. He states that intelligent design is an evidence-based scientific theory about life’s origin and development. His basic claim is that intelligence is the only known cause of specified information, and that therefore an Intelligent Designer is the best explanation for the origin and evolution of life. The majority of his essay seeks to make his case. He makes no effort to tie his message to the creation accounts in the Bible.

Throughout the book, areas of agreement among the views were mentioned, and there were pleas for unity and suggestions for how to achieve it. Interesting insights in the essays and responses were too numerous to mention here.

Basically, Haarsma and Ham did a good job of addressing the issues and connecting with the reader; Meyer and Ross not so much.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone, Christian or non-Christian, interested in the origins debate among Christians.

This guest review was contributed by Paul Bruggink, a retired technical specialist whose review interest is in the area of science and faith.